By Sophia Bachas-Daunert, Cornell University student
After Hurricanes Ian and Nicole battered Florida this summer, it’s clear that buildings throughout the state are facing unprecedented challenges in the years ahead.
As our climate continues to get warmer, hurricanes will have stronger winds, produce more rainfall, generate more damaging storm surge and produce higher sea levels.
We should all become increasingly concerned that the buildings that have been neglected will not be able to resist these forces of nature. This concern manifested recently, when residents were forced to evacuate condominiums in and near Daytona Beach, due to the beach erosion caused by Nicole, a category 1 hurricane.
If such a mild hurricane can cause so much damage, then what will happen when we are faced with extreme natural disasters?
As a future architect, I feel as though it is imperative that we consider the threats that our buildings are going to face and how best to respond. Florida’s population grew to more than 22 million people in 2022 and is projected to reach about 25 million by 2032.
The influx of residents increases the need for more residential and commercial buildings in cities that that are ill-equipped to cope with more development.
Moreover, builders and developers are finding it difficult to meet the need for more housing because of rising mortgage rates, supply-chain challenges with materials and higher labor costs.
These conditions make it nearly impossible to construct more buildings that are necessary for a good quality of life, leading to higher rental costs.
Now is the time to implement changes that will have lasting effects on the strength of our structures. The situation will only continue to get worse with violent hurricanes on the rise.
Legislation has been recently proposed in the Florida Senate that mandates new inspection requirements for congregate living spaces, as well as increasing the visibility of information regarding the building’s conditions. At the same time, a bill is being passed to encourage new affordable housing on any site set to be commercial, mix-use, or residential.
We need to make a change not only in the maintenance of buildings, but in the development of sustainable and strong structures that will be able to withstand these new conditions.
Florida needs to take steps to construct housing that uses materials such as bamboo that is strong, can withstand 173 mph wind, and is easily available or farmable in its climate zone. Moreover, repurposing materials that have come from destroyed buildings, boats, or waste can be used to quickly create structures that have a lower carbon footprint than newly produced metals.
All these methods of production are not novel. These are all changes that can and should happen today. Floridians need to urge state leaders to require strong and sustainable materials in all new buildings so that we can feel safe in the homes we live in for generations to come.
Sophia Bachas-Daunert is a Miami resident who is a Bachelor of Architecture candidate at Cornell University with a minor in Environmental Studies and Sustainability.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.